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Life Of Shakespeare Essay, Research Paper

Life of William Shakespeare

Around 1568, a group of actors visited Stratford and put on a play before the

entire town, with permission from John Shakespeare, the mayor of the town. The

people loved the play, especially the small children. All of them looked up to

the actors, as they returned each year to perform different plays. They had

dreams of one day becoming actors, but only one of these children fulfilled this

dream. This child was the mayor’s son, William Shakespeare.

At this time, actors in England usually spent their careers traveling to new

towns, performing plays at city buildings or local inns. However, with the help

of James Burbage, this all changed. James Burbage designed and built the first

theatre in England. The actors could then settle down in one place and perform

in a place built for plays. The theatre was a huge success, and many more began

popping up over England, but this theatre built by James Burbage was forever

known as The Theatre.

The layout of the stage consisted of five levels. The lowest level was for trap

doors built into the stage. The next level was the main stage, where the actors

did most of their performing. Above this was the balcony level, which could be

used to represent anything from a city wall to a mountain. The next level

contained pulleys which could raise or lower anything from above. The top level

was used for creating sounds of rain or thunder, or dropping important objects

from the sky.

William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway at age 18. In two years, they had

three children, a daughter named Susanna, and twins, Hamnet and Judith. He

didn’t stay in Stratford long after this though. He left his family to pursue a

career as an actor in London.

Shakespeare wrote his first play in 1592. It was a historical play called Henry

VI, which was one of the biggest successes of the year. Some scholars

criticized him because he did not have a university education like most

playwrites, but probably the only reason he was criticized for this was because

his play was so popular.

After the success of his historical play, he wrote a tragedy called Titus

Andronicus, and then The Comedy of Errors, a humorous comedy. Not many

playwrites wrote so many different types of plays in so short a time, but

Shakespeare was certainly not like any other English playwrite.

Very early in Shakespeare’s career, however, many theatres closed due to the

plague in England, and playwrites were not in high demand. Shakespeare then

turned to another type of writing and wrote a narrative poem entitled Venus and

Adonis. This was a huge success and he received praise for it by the scholars

who gave him no respect as a playwrite. His next poem was called Lucrece, which

was just as successful as his first. In spite of his success as a poet, he gave

up poetry after Lucrece was published. He joined Lord Chamberlain’s Acting

Company in 1594, and for the rest of his career, he only wrote plays for this


Other actors in Shakespeare’s company included Will Kempe, the most popular

comic of his time, and Richard Burbage, son of James Burbage, the designer of

The Theatre. Other important members of the company were John Heminges, who was

their permanent business manager, and Henry Condell, another actor in the

company. These two men later published the first complete edition of

Shakespeare’s play, after Shakespeare’s death.

Shakespeare wrote many plays which were adaptations of earlier plots. Some of

these include King John, The Taming of The Shrew, and Romeo and Juliet. Some

said he could turn a flat, one-sided plot into a masterpiece. In Romeo and

Juliet, Shakespeare mixes the humor of Mercutio and Juliet’s nurse into a

serious tragedy. Not many playwrites of this time mixed comedy with tragedy,

but he did this because the two elements combine in real life and he felt they

were free to combine in his plays.

None of the critics who had praised his poems ever mentioned his plays. However,

he was singled out by Francis Meres, a London writer. Meres stated,

“Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds of the

stage.” Meres was not a distinguished literary critic, but he reassured the

middle class readers who were already fans of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s acting company was doing what no other acting company had ever

done. Usually acting companies bought plays from writers, and the writer had no

further input in the production of the play. However, Shakespeare wrote,

produced, and sometimes even acted in his own plays. He helped design costumes

and props for the play, so it was presented exactly as he intended.

Although times were bad in England, and the company struggled with money, Queen

Elizabeth supported the actors, and they were always able to make money. However,

a few years after the company was formed, The Theatre Richard Burbage had

inherited from his father was in financial trouble. The lease on his land had

expired, and the owner would not renew it. The company had to find a new place

to perform their plays. Instead of finding another theatre, they decided to

dismantle The Theatre and move it to a different location. Each member paid a

part of the expenses, and each member received partial ownership of their new

theatre, called The Globe. They made The Globe the finest and by far the most

memorable theatre in England.

In the early days of The Globe, Shakespeare wrote three of his best romantic

comedies: Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and Much Ado About Nothing. All are

known for their highly improbable plots. Shakespeare, however, could make the

characters in his plays so believable and human, that the plots seemed perfectly


After many comedies, Shakespeare wrote the Roman tragedy Julius Caesar.

Although many stories had been done about Caesar, and the story was a legend in

England, Shakespeare’s version surprised many people by it’s originality. The

play centers around Marcus Brutus, Caesar’s friend, who eventually kills Caesar.

It explores what drives a group of well-respected men to commit murder, and the

events that take place afterwards.

One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, and one of the most praised plays of

the English language is Hamlet. This melodrama centers around the main

character, Hamlet, who had the great ability to express in words emotions that

many people only slightly felt. This character won the crowd over quickly and

it was an instant success. It received praise by many critics who weren’t fond

of Shakespeare before this time.

Hamlet was published in 1603, the same year Queen Elizabeth died, ending the

Elizabethan era. The new ruler was King James, who was as much of a fan of

acting as Queen Elizabeth. In fact, one of the first things he did as the new

ruler of England was make a list of the best actors in England and form an

acting company. The new group was actually just Lord Chamberlain’s company with

the edition of Lawrence Fletcher, King James’ favorite actor. This group of

actors now were called the King’s Men.

Shakespeare’s next great tragedy was Othello, which was a tragedy of jealousy.

It is about a man who believes that his wife is unfaithful to him. This

jealousy finally turns into rage and he kills her. After Othello, Shakespeare

wrote Macbeth, a tragedy of ambition. This is about Macbeth and his wife, who

believe that they can kill the King of Scotland and quietly take the throne.

They find, however, that this murder leads to other murders and they are

consumed with guilt. Macbeth would have been very controversial if it had been

any other playwrite, but Shakespeare at this time could write whatever he wanted.

He was thought of as the “Lord of Language”. This, as well as his friendship

with King James, allowed him to conquer any topic without fear of being censored.

In 1608, the King’s Men purchased a theatre at Blackfriars. They now had access

to two theatres, and the people who couldn’t travel far enough to get to one,

could visit the other.

The Tempest, probably the last play written by Shakespeare before his retirement,

was a fairy tail. It contained many enchantments and spirits, and a monster.

By the time it opened in December of 1611 however, Shakespeare had retired from

the King’s Men.

After his retirement, he wrote only one play, Henry VIII. The premiere of this

play was a huge event in England, and many people crowded into The Globe to

watch it. During the play however, a cannon which was used for effects misfired

and caused a fire inside the theatre. No one was hurt, but The Globe was ruined.

It had burned to the ground before anyone could stop it.

Considering the success of the company, they were quick to rebuild The Globe.

Shakespeare helped pay for the repairs, but he never gave the company another

play. He died on April 23, 1616, in Stratford and was buried at a local church.

After Shakespeare’s death, Henry Condell and John Heminges published the first

complete edition of Shakespeare’s plays. This was the first time many of the

plays were available to be read. Some plays were published before he died. They

were done on cheap pamphlets and some didn’t even contain his name. Heminges and

Condell, in fear of the plays being lost, decided to publish the plays instead

of selling them to other acting companies. They probably lost a lot of money

doing this, but they believed that their “friend and fellow” deserved the best.

Ben Jonson summarized it best by stating, “He was not of an age, but for all



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